The Worst Kept Secrets – Thomas De Angelis and privilege. (Theatre review)
The Worst Kept Secrets
Currently showing at the Seymour Centre, 18 Nov through to 22.
Think privileged ex State Premier involved in a mid-life crises with a heavily satirised dose of William’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof plastered over the top and you have the bones of The Worst Kept Secrets, the new play by arts/law major Thomas De Angelis currently showing at the Seymour Centre. The Worst Kept Secrets is very obviously a contemporary Australian take on the famous Tennessee Williams play and it does work with De Angelis finding a perfect balance between homage and ambition in his tale of an over privileged male coming to terms with his own obscurity in the face of enormous achievement. “But then I’ll only be remembered for being me” George Steeper laments and it’s an intelligent cry, for who wants to be remembered for being George Steeper, we start to realise? Identity is hardly a legacy, or at least it isn’t if all you’ve done through your life is attach your name to the smorgasbord of “accomplishments” ready to be handed you.
To give The Worst Kept Secrets some additional clout, the two lead roles of George and Annie Steeper are played by real life, performance super couple Sonia Todd and Rhett Walton, as close to an Australian version of artistic royalty as you will get in this country. De Angelis has written a nice twist on the Big Daddy/Big Mama relationship in giving Todd some of the best lines of the show, Annie being a virulent acerbic wit that evokes Edward Albee in her astringent observations of her husband. As if the two great American plays were moulded together, the Steepers tear and claw at the fragile seams of their marriage, performing their verbal torture not in front of some unwitting witnesses, but in front of the their children and their children’s partners. The sparring between the pair may lack the depth and social awareness of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, but De Angelis has certainly written some epigrammatic stuff, shrouded in a banter that, for a while at least, we suspect might be nothing more than a particularly cruel way the couple have of sharing their life together. It becomes clear as the play progresses and more secrets are revealed, that most of the family felt the same way, and they weren’t wrong, because some desires, when legitimised through integrity and action, are quickly revealed to be an empty reaction to a difficult-to-handle present.
And yet, The Worst Kept Secrets is more about the corruption of a politician – rather than political corruption – a man given too much in his life, for too little who has grown to think he can simply reach out for more when he chooses. De Angelis writes George Steeper as a man of oblivious entitlement who doesn’t know how to be grateful, nor how to appreciate what he has around him, and in this one senses the fears of the young law student writer/director himself (Thomas De Angelis is 23) the realisation of how much he receives for how little, slowly dawning on him as he grapples with awareness against his own privileged ego. The Worst Kept Secrets is a morality tale, a promise of sorts that every man who forgets the countless unnamed around him who helped him get where he got can only be redeemed through respecting those others, but he fails to question a system that concedes to those people in the first place, something that is easy to understand, and yet problematically missing from the play. The Steepers and their family come across as tediously first world in their anxieties at times, despite the beautiful dialogue, the characters too one-dimensional and not properly explored, despite fine performances. But that is one of the joys of theatre and the conceits of being in the audience, that one might see more in the writer than they ever intended to reveal.
As a director, Thomas De Angelis does well with a minimal set supporting a great cast who are having a wonderful time with his beautiful words. Samuel Boneham and Matt Morrow are the Steepers lawyer sons, each in their own way, on a path of taking what they’ve been given for granted, and each coming face to face with life’s little complexities. Paige Leacey and Lauren Pegus are their girlfriends, oblivious to the family trauma in the case of one, virtually the catalyst for it in the case of the other, each their own version of the outsider who provides The Event that shatters everything. All four children do a good job, but the show rests on the great performances of Todd and Walton and most particularly Sonia Todd who plays her Annie with a gut wrenching twist that really knows how to get the last word. If success is the best revenge, then this is a woman who knows how to punch above her weight, and Todd has a wonderful time with the best, most well-rounded character of the play. One can’t help imagining how strange and difficult it must have been for Todd and Walton to play these antagonistic roles, opposite the person they love most in the world, but one thing is for sure, it makes for fantastic theatre.